Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The best New Atheist book?


The New Atheism, one hears from time to time (e.g. here, here, here, and here), is dead.  Maybe.  It depends on what you mean by “New Atheism.”  I would say that its key marks are three: first, an unreflective and dogmatic scientism; second, an extremely shallow understanding of religion; and third, an obnoxious, evangelical fervor.  The third probably has by now worn out its welcome.  Even many secular people are tired of hearing the ever more unhinged rants and calls to action of the likes of Richard Dawkins and P. Z. Myers, and appalled by the lemming-like behavior of the kind of people who show up at a Reason Rally or Jerry Coyne’s combox.  As a self-conscious movement the New Atheism might be a spent force.

On the other hand, the first two marks of the New Atheism seem to me to be by no means on the wane.  Many, and indeed I would say most, secular people do not have a very deep understanding of the religious ideas they reject, and neither do they have a very sophisticated understanding of the philosophical problems inherent in the scientism they take for granted.  Unlike Dawkins, Myers, Coyne, and Co., they are not shrilly and militantly dogmatic and ignorant.  But they are politely and complacently dogmatic and ignorant. 

What would be interesting and remarkable would be a secularism whose best intellectual expressions were typically as sophisticated as, say, Walter Kaufmann, J. L. Mackie, or William L. Rowe, to cite three writers I admired in my own atheist days.  These were thinkers who recognized the intellectual and/or moral attractions of religious ideas and who also tried to grapple with the moral and intellectual problems posed by atheism.  They respected their opponents even when they disagreed with them vehemently – not out of mere politeness to the other side, but rather out of an informed perspective on it.  These thinkers are, of course, still known and their works still in print.  But even most (though of course not all) civil and educated atheists these days seem to lack their depth.

Anyway, if a postmortem on the New Atheism is in order, we might start by asking if anything of intellectual interest ever came out of it.  And the answer, I would say, is: Not much, but not quite nothing either.

One of the remarkable features of philosophy is that it is possible for a philosophy book to be well worth reading even if it gets things wrong, and even very badly wrong.  To take just four famous examples from early modern philosophy, Spinoza’s Ethics, Leibniz’s Monadology, Berkeley’s Principles of Human Knowledge, and Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature each put forward philosophical positions that are, frankly, nuts.  And yet every philosopher considers them classics, and for good reason, because each of these works is brilliant and worthy of careful study.  For though each starts from erroneous premises (in my view, anyway), each also makes the premises seem plausible, and also plausibly draws out their (often bizarre) implications. 

You can learn a lot from this sort of thing.  For one thing, if certain premises can be shown to have absurd consequences, that of course gives us reason to rethink those premises.  But there is more to the study of works like the ones in question than merely the caution against error that they afford.  A thinker who falls into a deep error can also sometimes see certain truths that others miss.  Why?  Precisely because he often focuses obsessively on some aspect of reality.  His mistake is that he exaggerates its significance, but precisely because he pays it far more attention than a more balanced thinker would, he notices things the more balanced thinker doesn’t.

Then there is the mundane fact that it is difficult for an intelligent thinker to go totally wrong, even when he is beholden to serious errors.  He is bound to get something right, even if it is not always what he thinks he is getting right.  For example, Hume’s account of the mind is ridiculous if applied to human minds, but it can be an illuminating way to begin to think about animal minds. 

A truly bad philosophy book, or a bad book of any kind for that matter, is one that not only gets things wrong, but fails to be interesting in any of the ways just described.  It simply has nothing going for it.  Now, a lot of New Atheist work is like that.  Consider, for example, Jerry Coyne’s Faith versus Fact, which I reviewed for First Things and commented on further here at the blog.  For the reasons I set out in those places, it is possibly the worst of the New Atheist books.  The only thing that is interesting about it is that there is nothing at all interesting about it, and that fact – the fact that an otherwise intelligent man could produce so worthless a piece of work – is alone worth pondering. 

You might think I am just being abusive out of some animus toward Coyne, but that is not the case.  For one thing, I certainly don’t deny that Coyne is worth reading when he writes about something he actually knows about, such as biology.  For another thing, if I have been hard on Coyne, I have also been very hard on other New Atheists, such as Lawrence Krauss and Daniel Dennett.  But I would not say about their New Atheist volumes what I say about Coyne’s.

For example, while Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing is cringe-makingly bad as an argument for atheism, it has some value as a pop science summary of some current ideas in cosmology.  I’ve often pointed out how ill-informed and dishonest is Dennett’s treatment of theistic arguments in Breaking the Spell, but that book too is not entirely without interest, because of Dennett’s account of the cognitive science of religious belief.  The theory is not plausible at the end of the day, but it is at least a theory, with substantive claims and arguments that are worth evaluating.  It is not a complete waste of time to read these books, the way reading Coyne’s Faith versus Fact is a complete waste of time (other than as a source of blog fodder, anyway).

Unfortunately, most New Atheist stuff is closer to Coyne’s book in value rather than to these other books.  For example, what is probably the best-known New Atheist book, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, is a step or two up from Coyne, but not as good as Dennett, say. 

None of the books named so far is really a good book, though.  Some are just less bad than the others, that’s all.  None of them is really much worth reading all things considered, and that is true of almost everything in the New Atheist genre. 

I would make one exception, however.  Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality certainly counts as a New Atheist book, at least if we take the three marks identified above as definitive of the New Atheism.  But it is also of real intellectual interest, and worth reading and thinking about.  Like the books by Spinoza, Leibniz, Berkeley, and Hume, the philosophical position it defends is nuts.  Indeed, it is far more crazy even than anything those writers have to say.  That is because it draws out the extreme, eliminative materialist implications of scientism far more consistently than other New Atheists do.  And though it is semi-popular in style, its arguments are also more philosophically interesting (however badly wrongheaded) than those of other New Atheist books.

That is not to say it ranks with the classics by Leibniz, Hume, et al. mentioned above.  Few books reach that status.  Nor is it to say that its arguments are very challenging.  They aren’t.  I did, after all, devote a long series of blog posts several years ago to cataloguing its failings.  However, it was worth examining in such depth because it very clearly and systematically articulates certain common errors, and shows how they, and even more radical consequences, follow from yet other and more fundamental common errors.  And it does so with much more sophistication than most other books informed by scientism.  It is in many ways a work that is representative of the intellectual pathologies of our age, and its study helps one to understand our age.  It is probably the only New Atheist book that might still be read years from now, and it is certainly the only one that will deserve to be read.

So, in my opinion, Rosenberg’s book stands out as clearly the best book in the New Atheist genre.

159 comments:

  1. I would disagree that the New Atheism didn't bring much to the world.

    In fact, one of the biggest benefits of the New Atheism movement overall has been a massive revival in Christian apologetics across every field.

    It even lead many people to become Christians because of their intellectual bankruptcy.


    Oh, and happy New Year professor! And may 2018 be a philosophically, as well as spiritually, fruitful year for you!

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    1. I've also heard that multiple people converted due to the sheer hate and anger pouring from some of the online Atheist groups.

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    2. I literally returned to Christianity because of Dawkins' book The God Delusion. It was so bad that it forced me to re-examine the arguments against his position. In essence, for me, Dawkins' book completely backfired.

      MOTW
      www.manofthewest.net

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    3. JoeD - New Atheism didn't bring much intrinsic value to the world. What you describe is some instrumental value that it had in turning people off to what New Atheism represents and some greater engagement with religious ideas.

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    4. Your talking about a consequential effect, while Dr. Feser was talking about a direct one.

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    5. I remember one atheist who said reading Dawkins almost made him a Christian.

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  2. Love to know what is so nuts about Berkeley's book.

    Gold star to the first genius who says "Berkeley denied the existence of an external.objective world" or some variation on that tired theme.

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    1. "Love to know what is so nuts about Berkeley's book"

      Me too. As a Berkelian rational immaterialist, I see nothing absurd or nuts about his view, except for the fact that it is hard for people steeped in previous materialism or dualism to accept.

      However, it is the most rational position to hold given our general principles of reasoning.

      Plus, even most of the 5 Proofs for theism that Dr. Feser writes about work on that view. So it is win-win.

      Cheers,

      MOTW
      www.manofthewest.net

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    2. Berkeley did deny the existence of material objects, which strikes most people as nuts. He did make an impressively elaborate argument, but most everyone will find the conclusion unbelievable.

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    3. @Jonathan Lewis

      "It is nuts and no one believes it my teacher told me so, no need to argue the point."

      Yawn.

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    4. Theillusionist,

      Love to know what is so nuts about Berkeley's book.

      Me too. Berkeley reminds me of the tale with the naked emperor. In that tale everybody insisted that the emperor wore beautiful clothes but when one actually looked one saw that he was naked. In the case of Berkeley everybody says he is nuts, but when one actually looks he makes perfect sense. I suppose the demise of subjective idealism is a good proof that philosophy moves by fashion. In modern times the philosophical fashion is materialism, Berkeley’s thought does not fit with materialism, so let us all say that he is nuts. And suggest that everybody who doesn’t understand that Berkeley is nuts is philosophically deficient. (In the emperor’s tale it was said that only stupid and lazy people were unable to see the emperor’s splendid clothes.)

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    5. There are some similarities between Aquinas and Berkeley, though few people have pointed this out. Both philosophers say that the world is totally dependent on God for its existence at all times.

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    6. TheIllusionist

      I do not think Berkeley is wrong just because most people can't believe him.
      I think the problem is that his metaphysics does not make a proper distinction between "my ideas" and "your ideas" You can say that everything we perceive is a mental experience, but is it your experience or mine? You could say the world is made of God's ideas, but then this could become pantheism unless you and I have our own mental ideas.

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    7. Jonathan,

      "I think the problem is that his metaphysics does not make a proper distinction between "my ideas" and "your ideas" You can say that everything we perceive is a mental experience, but is it your experience or mine?"

      Yours if you experience it. Mine if I do. And God's if no one is around to see it.

      "You could say the world is made of God's ideas, but then this could become pantheism unless you and I have our own mental ideas."

      We do have our own mental ideas. So it's not pantheism.

      There are only Spirits and ideas. Human spirits have small, individual experiences together with imagination, the capacity to abstraction and free will.

      God is the fount of all Being. Just like in Thomism. He grounds the entire world apart from the limited autonomy he has given to Man.

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    8. Perhaps the main reason that Berkeley’s metaphysics did not find favor in the church is that it was seen as incompatible with the mainly materialist viewpoint of tradition, with its emphasis in the *bodily* resurrection, in the transubstantiation at the Eucharist, and so on. Also Berkeley’s metaphysics was seen as bringing evil too close to God, for if all is made out of God’s ideas then so is evil. Of course according to classical theism God gives being to all evil and sustains all evil into existence, but this classical view at least permitted a certain distancing of God from evil. Indeed the existence of matter as a different kind of substance permitted that distancing.

      Of course all the above are really superficial and thus bad reasons. In fact the view that God created matter though matter is no needed for creation nor does it add anything of value to creation - is on its face a fantastically bad idea.

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    9. @DG

      I think the explanation is much simpler.

      The Catholic Church weren't interested because he was a very active Prot -- and a member of the Church of Ireland, no less, a doubly illegitimate church that greatly threatened a large Catholic population.

      The Enlightenment types that Berkeley were criticising -- together with the shallow society wags that Berkeley parodied as 'minute philosophers' (amazingly funny parody in Alciphron, worth the cost of entry alone -- and very similar to Feser's attacks in his New Atheist book so check it out) -- were simply not interested in anything that pointed towards a like a rational proof of God. So they dismissed it in line with Samuel Johnson's ridiculously stupid 'I kicked a rock' nonsense and then turned toward Hume who plagiarised Berkeley's theory, introduced truly absurd elements and toured it in the salons of a France chomping at the bit for regicide and the seizure of church property.

      Thus Berkeley remains today a footnote in an undergrad class on Hume and no one engages with the strongest, later versions of his metaphysics or ask if there are any lessons that might be taken away from them.

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    10. Theillusionist,

      Perhaps you’re right. I could never understsand the enmity between the Christian denominations, after all all truth comes from God. Still, you explain why the Catholic church did not embrace Berkeley’s bright idea. But why not the Aglican church which is no less brainy?

      As for why philosophy has not embraced Berkeley’s idea I basically agree: it was mere fashion. Berkeley worked at a time where theism was becoming philosophically unfashionable. Since today the tide is turning, perhaps we are in for a resurgence of metaphysical idealism. I predict that theistic philosophers of a freethinking bent will first realize the sheer power and rationality of metaphysical idealism. And many recent developments and in particular the metaphysical implications of the quantum order will give them more ground still. My own project for all it may be worth worth is to build on the philosophy of Berkeley and the theology of Hick.

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    11. Dianelos,

      Why did the Anglican church not pick up on Berkeley? Well now, prepare for some religious factionalism!

      Looking back Protestantism - or, at the very least, state Anglicanism - was basically a gateway drug to atheism. You can see this in the development of German Protestant theology (William Lane Craig has a nice overview in his 'Reasonable Faith'). Basically, they started to embrace 'historical criticism' and turned Christianity into a nice bunch of stories. From here it was one step (Craig doesn't go this far, but it's obvious if you know the scene) to David Strauss, Bruno Bauer and then, through him, Karl Marx.

      Anyway, unlike in Germany where they 'rationalised' the faith, in Britain Protestants didn't really try to give rational accounts of their faith. Occasionally they would point to natural scientific evidence and interpret it in light of faith (Paley's argument, which I am not altogether hostile to) but the desire for a metaphysical explanation evaporated as the desire for metaphysics evaporated - a direct result of the English Reformation, in my opinion. England became a land where they sloganized to themselves that they were "altogether very practical people".

      The Anglican church is a pure state institution. Only one stepped removed from the Church of the Supreme Being set up by the Jacobins. It is there to reinforce state power, not to keep a check on it. And so Anglicans tended to be high on emotive rhetoric and propaganda and low on scholarly debate. I'd imagine by the mid-19th century most Anglican intellectuals had accepted the philosophy of David Hume and stitched it together with half-baked readings of the German historical school.

      No metaphysics allowed!

      Admirable project. I really want to see a reconciliation between Berkeley and the Scholastics though.



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  3. On the New Atheism front, you're being far too highbrow. Scientism and a shallow understanding of religion go back to the 19th century -- if not earlier.

    New Atheism was a bunch of cranky guys (mainly guys) making fools of themselves in public while being egged on by other cranky guys (again, mainly guys).

    It almost succeeded in hitching its wagon to the progressive movement. But then it received a twofold blow:

    (1) It came up against the fact that, since the maturing of postmodernism/post-structuralism, highbrow progressive thought was re engaging with religious themes (Deleuze, Derrida) or actively lifting components of theology (this was Lacan's game; note that his disciple Zizek attends conference panels where he pays deference to French Catholic thinkers - I await his conversion with bated breath).

    (2) It came up against the other fact, at a lowbrow level, that progressives like to enforce very, very strict moral norms and speech codes. So long as you don't violate these publicly - my experience suggests you can say basically anything privately provided that you are politically 'on side' - then you are accepted in-tent. But the New Atheists were cranks with cranky manner and no notion of how to form political allegiances (they're mainly 'autistic', in internetspeak). And so it wasn't long before they were saying all sorts of uncouth things in public - mainly against Protected Group #759: Islam.

    And THAT is how New Atheism slipped into the shadows.

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    1. I think 2) was especially important in the demise of New Atheism. Many leading New Atheists ran afoul of SJWs. Some took the side of the SJWs and others attacked them, so the movement lost its progressive credentials and fell apart. Dawkins and Harris are as almost as unpopular with many progressives as they are with theists. Personally I prefer gnus to SJWs, at least it is straight forward stupidity.

      Otherwise another reason was that even many trendy types came to see New Atheism as simplistic and crude, especially as regards whether religious belief is always foolish and a force for evil.

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    2. Largely agree. But I think your second point ties into my first point.

      The trendy types thought that they had a more 'sophisticated' view of religion because of their readings of the likes of Zizek, Lacan, Derrida, Badiou and Deleuze. Kierkegaard also became very popular with trendy types.

      Do they actually have a more sophisticated view of religion than the New Atheists? I tend to think so. But that would be a fantastic broad topic for discussion.

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    3. @TheIllusionist,


      I wonder where Radical Orthodoxy fits into all of this, especially considering how RO uses the postmodern / critical method to conversely criticise modernity.

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    4. I regard the PoMo crowd as being more heretic than atheist. Like serious heretic - fashioning themselves in the image of the Nietzschean antichrist.

      Deleuze claimed, for example, that he took Christian authors and 'sodomised' (his words, not mine) their work in order to turn it into something totally different. Most of what he gets is slightly confused rambling and he clearly hasn't understood the theological ideas that he's trying to criticise.

      Anyway, I think PoMo is basically just Gnostic Heresy 2.0. So much so that many PoMoites actually started explicitly claiming this Gnostic mantle in the 1980s and 1990s.

      That is interesting because if you take the current sexual craziness (trans this and that, poly-whatever etc) as being out outgrowth of these theories - and I don't think that this is far wrong - then:

      a) We are currently experiencing a direct resurgance of the Gnostic heresy.

      b) We can now say that what the Church said about the Cathari (sodomite dealth-cult etc) was probably NOT propaganda.

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    5. That might be the case for a minority, but I don't think many mainstream progressives are knowledgeable on those figures. I think it was a more basic intuition that it is silly to think religion is always bad coupled with a feeling that dogmatic scientism and materialism are as much dogmas as any other position.

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    6. That's why I'm saying that the more highbrow types - like the ones who write for The Baffler magazine (one of Feser's links) - probably think along these lines.

      The lower level progressives I think are pretty hostile toward Christianity - in a sort of crude Monty Python way. But I really think that it was the anti-Islam stuff that turned them off.

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    7. New Atheism was a popular movement, not an intellectual one, so I can't imagine that postmodern thinkers played any role in its failure. Particularly since genuine postmodernism is such a European phenomenon--I don't think we have much sway in mainstream American progressivism. At least I've always felt like something of a unicorn with my Sartrean virtue ethics and Heideggerian ontology.

      For the record, Kierkegaard gave me a very lopsided picture of religion. If you focus on just one aspect as an outsider (for me, the superrationality of faith), you end up with a picture that is completely slanted in one direction. I have definitely said some crazy things because I thought I understood more than I did.

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    8. Foucault's influence in especially sexuality but also politics cannot be underestimated. Derrida was much more relevant in the eighties and nineties, but there's still a lingering influence of tone and focus. You're a bit late to the game if you understand post-modernism primarily in terms of Heidegger and Sartre.

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    9. No, I agree with Sartre and Heidegger. I like some of the more modern stuff as well, but I identify mostly with the existentialists.

      But yes, I'd agree that a lot of modern feminism and critical race theory has its roots in postmodernism, so to the extent that New Atheism was hurt by accusations of misogyny, postmodernism may have played a role. But when it comes to genuinely postmodern takes on religion, I don't see something like Derrida's vague religiosity having much in the way of influence. People are obsessed with relativity, sure, but not so much with continental philosophy of religion.

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  4. @TheIllusionist,



    When you say you await Zizek's conversion with bated breath, do you mean this sarcastically or are you actually hoping that he'll become a Christian?

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    1. Depends on your stance on deathbed conversions. I get the sense that Zizek will be a deathbed convert - like Sartre.

      On the one hand, you could say that this is a really lazy way to become a Christian as it obviously circumvents doing any work in your life.

      On the other, a lot of these people seem to live pretty broken and miserable lives - so maybe you could make the case that they deserve respite the most.

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    2. @TheIllusionist,


      Wait, Sartre converted on his deathbed?


      Really? I looked this up and there doesn't seem to be any evidence for it. The closest thing is a French newspaper article published in 1986, six years after his death.

      Do you have any proof of that? Because if so, this would have amazing apologetic value!

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    3. I'm actually not too au fait with the issue. I recall it being talked a lot about by other authors. I thought it was Catholicism. But casting a net around he seems to have become a Jew when he was on the way out:

      http://www.uccronline.it/eng/2014/12/11/the-scandalous-conversion-of-jean-paul-sartre/

      N.B. I have no dog in this fight. These claims could be untrue. I have no idea. But the linked reference appears to be sourced to at least two primary documents.

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    4. Another Wiki source:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benny_L%C3%A9vy

      "During these six years, Lévy worked with Sartre, and the two men produced four books until Sartre's death. While working with Sartre, Lévy began to discover Judaism, initially through his research into the Kabbalah, which he conducted with his mentor. Their work together created a stir among the circle that surrounded Sartre, because Sartre had begun introducing new ideas and terms that evoked religious and, more specifically, Jewish concepts, such as Redemption and Messianism. Some, including Simone de Beauvoir began accusing Lévy of brainwashing Sartre and faking his writings. After this Ms de Beauvoir and Mr Levy were no longer on speaking terms. Two months before his death, Sartre responded to these critics, claiming that he had indeed abandoned some of his earlier ideas."

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  5. Happy New Year Dr Feser.

    Personally I prefer Krauss's mediocre contribution, if only because (God Willing) I'm starting a distance learning Undergrad course in physics in either October or next January

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    1. Then if read Feynman's lectures, they are awesome.
      Much more physics, no pointless rhetoric.

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  6. From the baffler article Dr. Feser linked:
    All these self-styled intellectual titans, scientists, and philosophers have fallen horribly ill. Evolutionist faith-flayer Richard Dawkins is a wheeling lunatic, dizzy in his private world of old-fashioned whimsy and bitter neofascism.
    What? Am I actually reading this??? Please tell me this is just your typical anything not leftist enough = fascism to me use of the term "fascist"? Dawkins - for all his faults at times - a straight-up fascist???

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    1. Yeah, the reason many secularists don't like the New Atheists is their unwillingness to bow down to Political Correctness. They're being punished for their virtues.

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    2. That article actually managed to make Dawkins and co. look sensible.

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    3. I suppose that includes Dawkins and his fellow Brights? Militant secularism is just a poor man's religion.

      Also, what exactly does "religion shouldn't be involved in the state" mean? Institutionally? The way that phrase is thrown around by shallow, unthinking secularists, it's not clear and ends up being used to push any hint of religious out of every nook and cranny of public life. It's a disingenuous, sophistic method of attacking religion. The only thing that the US constitution posits is an institutional separation of church and state, not the removal of religious considerations from politics.

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  7. Indeed, it is far more crazy even than anything those writers have to say. That is because it draws out the extreme, eliminative materialist implications of scientism far more consistently than other New Atheists do.

    In the end, everything is superstition to the materialist . . . even the existence of their own minds and the world outside it.

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  8. Thank you for this post, Dr. Feser, and the articles you linked to/included. I am enjoying reading it all. Some great stuff in all, such as this treat from the slatestarcodex link (2nd last):
    The New Atheists accomplished the seemingly impossible task of alienating a society that agreed with them about everything.
    What is truly most funny is truly most true.

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  9. I think the effects of New Atheism were different in different countries. In England, residual Christianity is very limited. Rod Dreher likes to talk about America falling to therapeutic moralistic deism. We don't even have much of that in Britain. Outside some immigrant communities, serious religious belief is limited. Maybe 10% of the population is Christian in any meaningful way, and liberal Christianity is nearly gone. I wouldn't say most people were out and out atheists, but hostility to organised religion is widespread, especially when it has political implications. I think New Atheism increased that. I doubt they have ever read Dawkins, but aggressive village atheist types - who think babble about sky fairies is some kind of argument - are common. Certainly, some of this would have happened anyway, but the gnus intensified it.

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    1. That's a sad picture to paint of England. The vacuity of leftist/progressivist culture makes me fear the worse for England's future as a people and a coherent nation with meaningful national identity; at the same time, however, I think it could carry a chance for hope for change as the leftist spiritual vacuum, not getting the promised triumphant fulfillment of the end of history, might begin to consciously and conscientiously reconsider itself. Of course, the priests of the New New Religion will I imagine react even worse there - having enjoyed such a monopoly and seeming demographic invincibility - much worse than their counterparts did to just one serious defeat and important set-back in the United States: if that can cause madness and excessive hysteria and fear-mongering, imagine what a crisis of faith within its own base and identity could cause.

      Indeed, the next 3-7 years may prove pivotal in Western history in so many ways and for so many overlapping reasons and causes. The migration waves alone were going to be tough and testing for the West; but this on top of it... who knows. As a history geek, I hate to actually be saying with all honesty devoid of hyperbole or exaggeration that there is no modern analog in history for our present time in the West than the fall of the Western Roman Empire: itself in the context of an internal identity and extremely deep and sensitive ideological divide and dispute (between Christianity and paganism) coupled, of course, with mass migrations of peoples and trouble and wars across the frontiers.

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    2. I've lived in England for years but I'm not from there. It is a truly strange place. A culture utterly in decline. It's sad to watch.

      They tied their churches to the state and now all of them lie in ruin - no, worse than in ruin; they're simply museums. I've been to Anglican churches that have pictures of the local historians on the walls next to pictures of famous statesmen. Even when it lived I don't believe that this was actual religion.

      But now the country has utterly lost its identity. Its people sell themselves to the highest bidder - usually the Saudis, who infest all the most expensive parts of London. There is no coherence to anything that happens. And the country is deeply in debt to foreigners but unlike the US doesn't have the dollar. So the sterling declines every few years bringing living standards down with it.

      All they have left are their nice manners and their well-spoken language. But even these are shades of their former selves. Because there is nothing behind them. There is no genuine feeling behind the nice words and no real morality behind the manners.

      It is a country truly and completely in the last stages of decline.

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    3. And that just hurts more.

      Going back to being a history geek, England affects me in particular because I was and am such a lover of the pivotal Tudor period and the lead-up to it. Obviously as a Catholic it also carries natural interest and importance.

      What's sad in my opinion is that the English people particularly were for the most parts rather more usually the victims of tides of change of government and history than its authors. Anglicanism was a government construct pushed on the majority of the population. To the credit of the Church of England, though, it did tend to be in itself a very humane and thoughtful institution and served an important charitable and social service and function, filling in something of the void that happened with the closing of the monasteries and the privatization of the Church property that was effectively England's only then operating and meaningfully endowed social security system: the Anglican Church sincerely did try to curtail some of the economic depravity this generated and - like the Catholic Church it replaced - as an institution it offered a path to at least some upward social mobility after the deeper stratification that occurred with and under the Tudor establishment.

      Leftism, in its modern form and I imagine still in England, is just the New New Religion though much better and more pragmatic in its propaganda and ideology. Leftism requires a lot of media control and control of the schools to maintain a monopoly: so either the establishment is going to change itself and forfeit some of its privileges and monopoly (unlikely) or there's likely either going to be revolutionary activity in England or simply the erasure of England as we have historically and culturally known it.

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    4. @TheIllusionist,
      Conversely, I'm from England but haven't lived there for years. It IS a truly strange place. I'm not sure it was ever quite in reality how it thought it was, so the culture (and the decline of same) may be a manifestation of baser instincts that were there all along. When the economic realities of the debt mountain and the abandonment of its Christian heritage come to roost it will be truly sad to watch.

      @Timocrates,
      Nice (and rare) to hear the English described as 'victims' - we all think of ourselves as such in these times of glorified victimhood! I'd like to bang the drum for the non-established Protestant churches in England, which also added a lot to the cultural and spiritual life of the country.

      Delete
    5. Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget;
      For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.
      There is many a fat farmer that drinks less cheerfully,
      There is many a free French peasant who is richer and sadder than we.
      There are no folk in the whole world so helpless or so wise.
      There is hunger in our bellies, there is laughter in our eyes;
      You laugh at us and love us, both mugs and eyes are wet:
      Only you do not know us. For we have not spoken yet.

      [...]

      http://www.gkc.org.uk/gkc/books/secret-people.html

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  10. Even many secular people are tired of hearing the ever more unhinged rants and calls to action of the likes of Richard Dawkins and P. Z. Myers, and appalled by the lemming-like behavior of the kind of people who show up at a Reason Rally or Jerry Coyne’s combox.

    Sadly, the reasons New Atheism has fallen out of favour have nothing to do with their failings as philosophers. Rather, as with many Radical Feminists, the New Atheists have fallen afoul of a resurgent Political Correctness.

    This has sometimes made them more useful. Sam Harris, for example, has reinvented himself as a pretty decent anti-SJW pundit. His book on Islam with Maajid Nawaz is quite good.

    As for the absolute bottom of the barrel New Atheist, I'd have to nominate P.Z. Meyers, who is a full on SJW and isn't even competent as a scientist.

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    Replies
    1. This may seem out of the blue, but is your name a G.K. Chesterton reference?

      -An occasional lurker

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  11. This article on the New Atheists by the worthy Scott Alexander has some interesting points:
    http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/10/24/how-did-new-atheism-fail-so-miserably/

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  12. As intellectually vacuous as many of the New Atheists' arguments are, I do not think they propped up their own straw-men. I think several generations of equally shallow Christian thinkers did that for them.

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  13. They weren't mentioned here, but Hitchens' God is Not Great and Harris's End of Faith have to be next to Coyne, Dawkins, and Krauss for the most poorly argued books ever written by a new atheist. I reread large portions of Hitchens' book the other day and if you get past the quite polished prose, it is breathtakingly bad. Harris doesn't even have the added benefit of enjoyable prose to read--just poorly argued arguments.

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  14. OK, this kind of asks for a comparison to be made: who's the better writer--the better master of English prose? Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins or Professor Feser?
    (I mean, I know they are all really excellent, but seriously!)

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    1. Hitchens and it's not even close.

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    2. Peter Hitchens is better than Christopher.

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    3. Not at writing.

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    4. Peter and Christopher Hitchens are both great masters of English prose. The latter had a persuasive style, but often that of a polemicist, one well-trained by his Marxist mentors, whereas the former is a more honourable debater and serves a nobler purpose, imho.

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    5. Somehow, the English are always better at English.

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    6. That Hemingway guy and Twain guy weren't bad though. And a personal favorite, Henry Adams.

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    7. Henry James, John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow... and many many more.

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  15. And Which book and philosopher you think is best from Atheism Proper, Dr.Feser?

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  16. Steven Evans,

    Ugh. Get the hell out of here post haste.

    Everyone else, stop feeding this noxious troll. All further comments by him or in response to him will be deleted.

    ReplyDelete
  17. The new atheists are the reason I am now a believer in God (not a Christian or anything though). It took making stupid, ill-informed, remarks like Steven Evans here (like thinking that arguments by those like Feser have anything to do with the beginning of time or the universe), before realising how much blind-faith it takes to have a new atheist view of science.

    So I can credit examining the ideas of the New Atheists to realise how stupid they were.

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    Replies
    1. Billy (and everyone else), please stop talking even about this psychotic person (let alone to him) and hopefully this thread can still be salvaged.

      Delete
    2. But Prof. Feser, under atheism, aboutness does not exist ;)

      Delete
    3. Nice one, Anon. (I see what you did there.)

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    4. Very evil Anonymous. Very evil.

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  18. Ed, what would be the best New Atheist attack on Christianity?

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  19. I found great value in the new atheist books and community, albeit only in the limited sense others have already mentioned, i.e. their obvious ignorance of the topics they opined on, combined with the sort of frothing rage they displayed toward religious believers, eventually led me to seriously question my agnosticism.

    I was already familiar with Ed's work through his excellent edited volume on Hayek (The Cambridge Companion to Hayek), so I happily went and picked up a copy of his Aquinas. Because of that work and others I've come to reject my former agnosticism as untenable.

    So, thanks to the new atheists for sparking my interest in a more serious study of the philosophy of religion, which eventually led to turning my worldview upside down.

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    Replies
    1. You mean the kind of frothing rage directed towards me recently by someone (on a different site) who started yelling at me after I reminded him that the great majority of scholars firmly believe that Jesus actually existed and was crucified? Yeah, I think I know what you mean. :-)

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    2. Some light relief for Hayek fans: https://www.facebook.com/raymond.dickey.9/posts/10208705721640859

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  20. I don't believe Berkeley's metaphysic is anywhere near as nuts and/or bizarre as people think it is. Certainly not approaching the bizarreness of materialism or how modern science views reality. But I've written a very short introduction to his philosophy where I provide my thoughts.

    http://ian-wardell.blogspot.com/2014/03/a-very-brief-introduction-to-subjective.html

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    1. This is a fairly decent summary. Could someone PLEASE explain why this is inconsistent with a Thomist/Aristotlean worldview?

      The best answer I've seen is something like:

      "Well, Aristotle and his followers believed in prime matter - that is, matter without form."

      To which Berkeley would respond:

      "They had no basis for believing in this prime matter. Matter without form is an abstraction that (a) we never experience directly and (b) does not add or subtract anything to our capacity to conceive the world (in the way that, say, abstract numbers or geometrical objects do). Therefore Aristotle should just drop the notion of 'prime matter' and realise that what we encounter the world of experience are impure forms deposited there by the mind of God."

      It's so much tidier.

      But Feser et al lummp Berkeley in with Hume because this is how he is taught in universities. Undergrads are taught to tear down strawmen of Berkeley which purport that he claimed an objective external world does not exist. He does think that its exists; Hume just dropped the idea of God and then proceeded to ruin Berkeley's philosophical system while popularising it amongst trendy British and French atheists.

      SAD.

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    2. One primary reason is to account for how the same thing can undergo change

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    3. In Siris Berkeley, without approving of everything Aristotle says, interprets Aristotle (including the doctrine of matter) in an immaterialist way.

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    4. I did not know that Brandon. Thank you. I will look into that.

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    5. @TheIllusionist
      We are friends.
      But can you provide sources for your claim that Berkely thought the external world exists in any meaningful/common sense way?

      Delete
    6. Good Day Timocrates,

      Your question needs a lengthy answer to do it justice, and I am short on time, so I may provide more later. First, sources. Here is--of all people--AC Grayling in a surprisingly good paper on Berkeley:

      "From this in turn it follows that although everything that exists is mind-dependent, it is not dependent on particular or finite minds, but has an objective source and structure, namely, the eternal, ubiquitous and law-like perceiving of an infinite mind. This is the sense in which Berkeley is a realist; the world exists independently of the thought and experience of finite minds (2D166-7) - which explains what he means by claiming to defend common sense, for common sense holds that grass is green and the sky is blue whether or not any of us happen to be looking at either, whereas Locke and the corpuscularians held otherwise - grass has powers to make us see green, but it is not itself green; indeed, on the Lockean view the world is colourless, odourless and silent until perceived, when it produces in the perceiver visual, olfactory and auditory experiences. But for Berkeley the world is just as we perceive it to be even when we are not perceiving it, because it is always and everywhere perceived by the infinite mind of a deity.

      The deity perceives the universe by thinking it, that is, causing it to exist by conceiving it. In a letter to the American Dr Samuel Johnson Berkeley remarks that his view differs only verbally from the theological doctrine that God maintains the universe in existence by an act of continual creation. So the ideas which constitute the world are caused by the deity, and appear in our consciousnesses as the effects of his causal activity: this is the metaphysical way (level 3) of describing what, in ordinary terminology, we describe as seeing trees, tasting ice-cream, and so forth. The latter way of describing the facts is not incorrect; Berkeley's argument is that the ordinary and the metaphysical ways of describing reality are alternative descriptions of the same thing."

      http://www.acgrayling.com/berkeleys-argument-for-immaterialism-page-2

      More to follow...

      MOTW
      www.manofthewet.net


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    7. Timocrates said:

      "But can you provide sources for your claim that Berkely thought the external world exists in any meaningful/common sense way?"

      Next, note that your term "meaningful" is a loaded term. Berkeley believes that objects exist, but that they are a collection of ideas (thoughts from the mind of God) rather than being composed of matter. Is such a view of objects meaningful? Well, it is to me. So is it meaningful in general? That is a harder question to answer objectively. But what can be stated is that Berkeley was a realist (as Grayling notes above) who merely disagreed with materialists as to what objects are ultimately made of; the latter said "matter", the former said "ideas". But both agreed that objects exist.

      Next, Berkeley's view is commonsensical in the sense that Berkeley's view affirms that everything we perceive most clearly in our daily lives--color, the solidity of objects, etc.--is real. Materialists, by contrast, claim these are, ultimately, illusions created by the human mind. So, in that way, Berkeley's view is more commonsensical.

      But more importantly, the strength of Berkeley's view is that all the evidence is for it, all our rules of reasoning point us towards it, it is the best explanation for our view of the world, and EVEN IF it is a strange view, it is no more strange (and arguably less so) than materialism is. Thus, everything is on Berkeley's side.

      Ultimately, the main reason, in my view, that Berkeley's view is rejected is because Western Man has been steeped in materialism / dualism for so long that it is hard to break out of it, and, for Western atheists, Berkeley is rejected because God is almost unavoidably part of the package (and I have quotes that can support this claim).

      Cheers,

      MOTW
      www.manofthewest.net

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    8. Ian,

      Nice summary of Berkeley on your site!

      MOTW
      www.manofthewest.net

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    9. @Timocrates

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Treatise_Concerning_the_Principles_of_Human_Knowledge#What_causes_ideas?

      References in there.

      The 'other spirit' is, of course, God.

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    10. @Timocrates

      A decent summary of why God or the 'super-mind' is a superior idea to that of 'matter':

      https://fixingtheeconomists.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/the-mystery-of-matter-a-response-to-lord-keynes-on-berkeleys-idealism/

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    11. @Steve Evans

      Mate, you look like a guy hanging around outside a gay club because he's "just curious".

      Either go into the damn club or go home to your girlfriend!

      If you're interested in philosophy then go take a course or pick up a book before hijacking threads of people who have done so. If you're not interested in philosophy then go away and read more pop science books.

      It's so sad.

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    12. Brandon,

      I don't want to derail too much, so if you've written on it elsewhere, I'd appreciate a reference, but since your expertise is in modern philosophy, what are your thoughts on Berkeley's Master Argument? Do you think it fails (and if so, why), or does it succeed but not prove what people who give a superficial reading of it think it proves? Or maybe it's just true? I've been noodling over it recently, but it's a bit like how people often describe ontological arguments, where something seems to be wrong, but it's hard to pinpoint exactly what. Thanks!

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    13. @ccmnxc

      Most Bereleyites consider the 'Master Argument' a strawman invention of Berkeley's critics.

      See here:

      https://fixingtheeconomists.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/berkeleys-master-argument-doesnt-exist/

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    14. @TheIllusionist 6.43

      Priceless.

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    15. ccmnxc,

      As TheIllusionist notes, it's difficult to find the Master Argument in Berkeley himself; it seems to be an artifact of attempting to apply the approach of analytic philosophy, which likes to focus on single, well-defined arguments in isolation, to Berkeley, who has a completely different approach to argument -- Berkeley rarely does single arguments in isolation, since his arguments are generally branching. What is usually called the Master Argument in the Three Dialogues, because Berkeley (by way of Philonous) says he is "content to put the whole upon this issue", only gets its force from everything that has gone on in the argument before.

      But as to the Master Argument as it is usually discussed, I think it goes through on empiricist principles; rejecting it requires a distinction between imagination and intellect.

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    16. Part of that seems to have accidentally dropped out; it should say, "Berkeley rarely does single arguments in isolation, since his arguments are generally branching networks of mutually reinforcing sub-arguments".

      It's an important point, since Berkeley's strength as a philosopher is in great measure that he is one of the great grandmasters of philosophical argument; he rarely relies on a single argument, or even a single kind of argument, and always anticipates objections, so if you think you've answered one of his arguments, chances are reasonably good that he's flanked you and your answer using another argument.

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    17. TheIllusionist and Brandon,

      Heh, figures that it isn't that easy. I won't belabor the point, then. I might do some digging around on this; any recommended secondary works on Berkeley that might be a good corrective?

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    18. @ccmnxc

      I got into Berekely from his original witings which I found some of the best in pre-20th century philosophy.

      But I have to say that 'Metaphysics For the Mob' by John Russell Roberts is written beautifully and is very engaging:

      https://www.amazon.co.uk/Metaphysics-Mob-Philosophy-George-Berkeley/dp/0195313933

      I believe Roberts also came from an analytic background. So, if Feser wants to try an actual critqiue of Berkeleyism beyond sloganeering it might be a good point of engagement.

      I truly believe that Berkeley's philsophy is the meeting point between early modern philosophy - and hence the Enlightenment - and an engagement with the scholastic tradition.

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    19. ccmnx,

      Assuming that you are still reading this increasingly bloated thread, Kenny Pearce's Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World is very good.

      Delete
  21. Hmm. I find it ironic that a lot of articles seem to take a slightly resentful tone re the New Atheists being called out for their bulling attitude towards Islam.

    Re the extreme SJW types, I'm just waiting in fond anticipation for the day they realize a certain famous Victorian naturalist was as close as a particular could come to the Platonic form of 'old, bearded white guy'.

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    1. My theory of the almost universal conception of God as an old bearded white guy is Noah.
      From my studies, even the ancients believed they were all descended from a common man.

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  22. Some words on nuttiness of Leibniz's Philosophy would be appreciated.

    From little I know, his metaphysics is quite exotic but that is what makes it interesting.

    I was recently looking into this book on Leibniz's theory of causation and action.

    https://books.google.com.pk/books/about/Leibniz_on_Causation_and_Agency.html?id=ZjXwnAAACAAJ&redir_esc=y

    I don't quite grasp most of that stuff but its interesting how some features of Scholasticism are also present on his system while also being heavily modified or transformed, Like His doctrine of Teleology or final causes seems clearly influenced by Aristotelianism but is still very different and also has very different implications for other thing like morality or God.
    The author specifically contrasts his views and Aquinas's view in the book.

    Lots of material in that book seems to be taken from other published work of that author, recommended read.

    http://u.osu.edu/jorati.1/research/

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    Replies
    1. Berkeley's metaphysic is largely obsolete then? :O

      This is nonsense. Also, funny that Berkeley argued against absolute space and time saying they made no sense. He argued against Newton' bucket experiment etc. And there's nothing in QM that refutes his subjective idealism; nay, if anything, a certain interpretation of QM fits nicely with his metaphysic.

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    2. I accidentally responded to that guy, Evans or whoever he is. So my comment above makes no sense now! Oh well, I'll leave it.

      Delete
  23. Hi Ed (and everybody),
    What about Sean Carroll’s The Great Picture? (And... Is Sean Carroll considered a New athist?) - sorry for my english.
    Gonzalo

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    Replies
    1. Don't be sorry, I appreciate your work and effort at it. Keep it up!

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    2. I don’t think Sean Carroll counts as a New Atheist. Because even though he’s equally and horribly wrong about his philosophy, at least he’s honest, relatively modest and not an obnoxious troll such as Jerry Coyne and the like.

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    3. I agree to an extent. His book on poetic naturalism was a valiant and serious attempt. But he seemed to flip flop between eliminativism and reductionism (or was that just my impression?)

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  24. One positive thing I saw come out of the New Atheist movement is that while many of them may reason poorly, they do at least put some value in reason. I saw a shift in my on-line discussions from arguing about the validity of logic and the objectivity of truth to arguing with the assumption of logic and truth to particular instances of both. While the post-moderns seemed to be anti-science and anti-reason, the New Atheists and those who were influenced by them all seem to be pro-science and pro-reason. I find that, at least, refreshing.

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    Replies
    1. But why doesn't it ever turn into anything? I think the doubling down of media and PC control is in large part due to what you are talking about: too much thinking is a problem!
      I agree even as thick headed as so many old-schools atheists could be, they really did believe in our rational power to develop the world and work it out. Not to presume, but both Dr. Feser and I are converts from atheism and North Americans. So-called Progressivism just will not die. They called my grandfather a Nazi who fought in the wars and his dad in the battle of Britain because they were not content with what was happening in their country by college students who spat on them!
      I think we have a soft spot for gentiles who are atheists because of their sincerity; but I also think we must be wise! Lenin will always have his "useful idiots!"

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    2. @Timocrates,


      When you refer to old-school atheists, do you have in many people like Bertrand Russell, J.L.Mackie, Sartre and Nietzsche?

      Delete
    3. What made the old school atheists different from the new kind, is that they at least admitted that their worldview raises serious challenges e.g.:

      - Democritus and Nagal admit the problems inherent in materialism vis a vis the mind.

      - Michael Ruse and good Ole Frederick at least admit that on their view morality is subjective, although Ruse like Rosenberg doesn't seem to want to admit it in his personal life.

      The other way in which they differed was that they treated the best of religious thinkers with respect e.g. Quentin Smith and Graham Oppy whilst disagreeing with WLC treat him and his arguments with respect

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    4. Maybe not so much Nietzsche - Nietzsche was too dangerous.

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    5. Even if philosophy is largely useless, that doesn't mean physics can stand in for philosophy. They generally don't deal with the same questions. So I don't see the point in comparing philosophy to physics or science. It's like comparing economics or international relations to physics. It may be true physics is far more advanced and precise than these, but that doesn't mean we can dispense with these other disciplines. Even if the claim were that economics and IR were ultimately reducible to physics, apart from being highly questionable, we'd still need these disciplines.

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    6. And that physics could tell us about the origins of consciousness in a metaphysical sense seems dubious or just wrong. This is a metaphysical issue. Even if consciousness were a completely reducible to matter, a highly questionable and puzzling claim, as even many of its proponents admit, this would still be a metaphysical or philosophical claim.

      Delete
  25. I put my heat into those comments earlier and got nothing back? Who am I even talking to here? This is going to be a very painful experience for what is left of it.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Anyone know what happened to dguller? He still around?

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    1. I remember that guy. Wasn't he so sure Ross argument for the immateriality of the intellect was incompatible with final causation? Ironically Fewer deals with that very objection in the essay that was being critiqued!

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    2. I think that was Don Jindra.

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    3. No, dguller was an atheist who eventually became a classical theist.

      Delete
    4. Right you are. What happened to Crude?

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    5. Anonymous,

      I do indeed argue that Ross's claim about the indeterminacy of physical processes is devastating to final cause (if one believes Ross, which I don't). I've seen no argument from anyone which makes those concepts compatible. However, that is just a side effect of Ross. My main objection to “Immaterial Aspects of Thought” is that Ross merely begs the question. I spent most of my time making that argument.

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  27. I can thank the New Atheists for not being post-modern opponents of genuine religious belief, regardless of how cocksure and wronghead their credulous ideas were; they never attempted to make friends they did not want to have in this age-old discussion about things that actually matter. For a long time, I was sucked into the black hole of postmodernism and it's inability to deal with the intelligible world that we inhabit. I was a half-sunken boat that floated slightly above the waters of nihilism; I had enough faith in the post-modern disposition towards reality to remain above water, but I was rowing in no meaning direction and that slowly became clear to me as I began to engage with the militancy of fashionable ideas. Nietzsche words were prophetic to my slumbers, "Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning?" Mind you, I'm not claiming that the New Atheists are as interesting as Nietzsche, however, these individuals did cause me to give up my passive delusions.

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  28. There are many philosophy books that reach crazy conclusions, but are still worth reading. I do not agree with F.H. Bradley's metaphysics, but I love reading his book because it raises such interesting ideas.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Anonymous,

    Per Ed's third key mark, I'd say that Carroll is definitely not a New Atheist. But he definitely fits the first two. I appreciate the civility and attentiveness with which he treats metaphysical matters, and his willingness to call out the idiocies of many of his more philosophical reckless colleagues. But his scientism and his penchant for silly, one-dimensional religious straw men could hardly be more dogmatic and unreflective.

    I've addressed some of his arguments from The Big Picture here. Ed has a number of good reviews of his thought here, and Luke Barnes has reviewed The Big Picture and addressed other arguments of Carroll's as well here.

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  30. TheIllusionist wrote:

    Feser et al lummp Berkeley in with Hume because this is how he is taught in universities...

    if Feser wants to try an actual critqiue of Berkeleyism beyond sloganeering...

    etc.

    Good grief, man, I made only a brief reference, and I said nothing at all -- not even "slogans" -- about why I reject Berkeley's philosophy. The post isn't even about Berkeley. So, why you think you know my reasons for saying what I did, I have no idea.

    I also made it clear that to call a view "nuts" is by no means to dismiss it, or the thinker who holds it, as unserious or unworthy of consideration. On the contrary, I actually have a pretty high regard for Berkeley. He's a very important critic of the notion of matter as the moderns tend to conceive of it. Also, in his own eccentric way, an important booster for the doctrine of divine conservation.

    Take a look at my essay "Natural Theology Must be Grounded in the Philosophy of Nature," in Neo-Scholastic Essays. There's a whole section of the paper devoted to discussing the importance of Berkeley on those issues.

    Gold star to the first genius who says "Berkeley denied the existence of an external.objective world" or some variation on that tired theme.

    Sure, it's a tired theme. Here's another tired theme: The notion peddled by some Berkeley fans that, once you put aside the oversimplifications of Berkeley's philosophy, it is unproblematic, or indeed not still nuts.

    Collapsing intellect and imagination is the main sin here. That's nuts. Esse est percipi is nuts too. As is the idea that only spirits and their ideas exist. But the collapse of intellect and imagination is the worst.

    So, fine, yes, Berkeley doesn't deny that tables etc. exist external to any individual mind. I know that. Big deal. It doesn't follow that his analysis of that fact is plausible or that the overall system isn't still nuts.

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    1. Ed,

      Berkeley's critique of matter as (a) unobservable and (b) a useless and borderline tautological abstraction hold for older notions of 'prime matter'. Even in Aristotle and his progeny this notion is utterly empty.

      Once subjected to scrutiny it becomes clear that 'prime matter' is nothing of the sort. But rather ideas given permanence in the mind of God. From there, I promise you that St Thomas' metaphysics is rendered much more easliy exposited (especially the rather slippy doctrine of how form 'combines' with prime matter to make particular objects).

      As to the intellect/imagination thing. It's not a very strong line of attack -- it only works on early Berkeley. In the Principles Berkeley does seem to equate the two and this gives rise to problems with his theory - basically we would have to reject abstractions, like numbers.

      But he fixes this in later work - especially in the Alciphron. What emerges out of this is Berkeley's Divine Language theory.

      Unfortunately most profs don't get that far in undergrad courses. As Roberts argues in his 'Metaphysics of the Mob' Berkeley is always read through the lens of Hume. And so he is taken as a radical empiricist. But his mature work is not like this. And it is his mature work that 'closes' his metaphysics and renders it compatible - in my opinion - with the scholastic tradition.

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    2. Ed Feser,

      Esse est percipi is nuts too. As is the idea that only spirits and their ideas exist.

      Only Berkely does not say that only spirits and their ideas exist. For example tables also exist, being had and having weight and consisting of atoms which have all the properties the physical sciences have discovered. Berkeley’s ontology is different in that it points out the redundancy and indeed unknowability of matter which materialists and dualists (including the respective theists) imagine must be there for the former to exist.

      “So, fine, yes, Berkeley doesn't deny that tables etc. exist external to any individual mind.”

      Only you are here contradicting what you just wrote above. And tables do not exist external to God’s mind, since God is the metaphysical ultimate – that which gives being to all existents including tables.

      I have the impression that you are doing to Berkeley what others philosophers do to Aquinas. Perhaps there is a general existential principle at play here: Part of the fallen nature of our cognitive faculties is that we don’t see what we don’t desire to see.

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  31. Ed do you know if the event with Barron and Craig will be streamed? I need to watch this!

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    1. Yes, my understanding is that it will be.

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    2. Great. I know you are moderating at some point so will probably aim to keep the emphasis on the main speakers. But a part of me kinda wishes Craig brings up Divine Simplicity. Bishop Barron sets the stage with a Tony Stark line from the first Avenger "I'm bringing the party to you". Craig vs Feser. Neotheism vs classical theism. Probably better than last year's Thor vs Hulk battle.

      Almost certainly better than Justice League.

      Delete
    3. @Callum,

      Well I'll be, another superhero movie fan!

      Which do you think is the best (not your favourite) MCU movie?

      Delete
  32. Red wrote:

    Some words on nuttiness of Leibniz's Philosophy would be appreciated. From little I know, his metaphysics is quite exotic but that is what makes it interesting.

    Yes, it's interesting, and precisely because it's nuts. That's exactly what I said in the OP. What I have in mind, primarily though not exclusively, is the theory of monads, which is utterly bizarre, but also fascinating precisely because it is worked out with such beautiful logical acumen.

    Look, I love Leibniz. He's my favorite among the moderns. I devoted a whole chapter of Five Proofs to a (somewhat modified) version of his cosmological argument because I have such regard for it. But he's extremely interesting for far more than just that. And like I said to The Illusinist, I have a high regard for Berkeley. Alongside Descartes -- another nut, and an utterly brilliant and fascinating one -- Leibniz and Berkeley are my favorite modern thinkers to teach.

    I think you and TheIlusionist are reacting too strongly to the word "nuts." In this context I mean it as more or less shorthand for saying "Nope, no way in hell can that possibly be right." That leaves open an enormous amount of respect for a thinker and his ideas.

    Examples can easily be multiplied of thinkers I regard as nuts yet have a deep respect for. E.g. Parmenides and Zeno -- mega nutcases. And I love 'em to death.

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    1. Is there any aspect of Thomson which you think is nuts?

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    2. Great question Greg.

      On the topic of Leibniz's cosmological argument. I was reading a paper by Pruss on how the defender of the argument does not need and should not use a PSR which entails contrastive explanation in order to uphold Divine Creative Freedom and the No Necessary Choice doctrines. Pruss was explicitly Thomistic in that paper. He has also contributed a paper in the recent Neo Aristotelian perspectives on contemporary science. Is he basically a Thomist Now?!

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    3. It is one of the great scandals of this brave new world that ‘Thomism’ autocorrects to ‘Thomson’.

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    4. It is to laugh! I was wondering who Thomson was, and I just assumed he was some famous philosopher whom all you professional philosophers know about.

      I sent a text today to a woman named 'Shaye' - then had to send an apology for the fact that auto-correction had addressed her as 'Shame.'
      jj

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    5. There can be no autocorrection on Thomism.

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    6. Pruss has always been an Analytical Thomist albeit one with an emphasis on the Analytical. His book powers is probably the quintessential Neo-Scholastic text on modality. Out of all of them he is probabaly the figure I admire the most given all the work he's done to bridge the gap between Thomism and Analytical philosophy of religion.

      He differs from more traditional Neo-Thomist figures like Ed or Oderberg in some respects e.g. his views on tropes or philosophy of time (he's a B-Theorist)

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    7. QA

      Whilst I respect Pruss immensely I do think that (like Dr Barr who in all fairness is not a philosopher) he's willing to conceed far to much to the naturalist in so much (as you mentioned) as he's a B theorist and that he doesn't believe that doors, windows and the like really exist, but only fundamental particles held by fields in door and window like patterns.

      Again I respect him immensely and really do like his defense of Libinez's Contingency argument, but I do think he's gone to far down the rationalist road (when it comes to metaphysics).

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    8. he doesn't believe that doors, windows and the like really exist, but only fundamental particles held by fields in door and window like patterns.

      I don't think that is correct, his view is more like that of Peter Van Inwagen's, He not a complete nihilist.

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    9. I appreciate what you're saying Annoyn, but once you start down that roads you begin to undercut your own position (very much like Descarte) and allow the poison of modernist metaphysics into your philosophy.

      Better in my view to realize that the nihilist position is essentially (if somewhat modified to take the findings of modern science into account) that of the ancient atomists and deploy the arguments of our forefathers against them.

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  33. Great post !! And absolutely spot on definition of New Atheism.

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  34. Hello Dr. Feser,

    I just finished your wonderful new book, the "Five Proofs". Another masterpiece, sir. I particularly enjoyed your systematic exploration (and explanation) of God's Divine Attributes. Which has gotten me thinking...
    Is there any philosophical, scholarly work that shows the correspondence of Divine Revelation (i.e. Sacred Scripture) with the Divine Attributes that have been determined through Natural Philosophy. I am just wondering if anyone has made a study/survey in which specific scriptural verses are identified which directly (or indirectly) provide independent support for Unity, Simplicity, necessity, immmutability, impassibility, eternal, immaterial, incroporeal, perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, fully good, intelligent, etc.

    I certainly can think of a more than a few specific verses that would apply to a few of the above. However, I am just curious if any formal work has been produced along these lines. If not, perhaps an idea for a future book of yours?

    Cheers,
    John

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    1. Thank you Dr. Feser for your unexpectedly quick email reply to my above post. You Rock!

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    2. @Tritium

      Care to share? What books did he recommend?

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    3. Yes, here is Dr. Feser's reply with recommendations:

      "Hello, yes, this sort of thing was often treated in Scholastic manuals of theology, some of which are still in print or old copies of which can be found online. For example, see Pohle and Preuss's book God: His Knowability, Essence, and Attributes or Dalmau and Baker's Sacrae Theologiae Summa IIA: On the One and Triune God. You can find these on Amazon, and the first is also posted online in one or two places."

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  35. Guys,

    Seriously, what part of "Don't feed the troll" do you not understand? Especially one as psychotic as this one?

    Steven Evans is not welcome at this blog and all comments of his will continue to be deleted. So too will all comments responding to him.

    So: Steven, GET LOST. Everyone else, IGNORE the troll already.

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    1. Your blog, your rules. But I can't help but thinking it a bit of an overreaction. Evans is no SP. He is an ignorant gnu, but there's a glimmer of engagement. His main problem, other than being ignorant and conceited, is he is way to prolific. That's going to make the troll alarm bells ring.

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    2. His main problem, other than being ignorant and conceited, is he is way to prolific.

      Well, yes, that's precisely the point. I almost always tolerate even very obnoxious and moronic comments if it's just a matter of one or two here or there. But with this weirdo it's comment after comment after comment, followed by comment after comment by people responding to him, and before you know it it's turned into a pissing match and the thread is completely ruined. So I really have no choice but to ban him.

      Also, in fairness to SP, he was never as nasty or psychotic as this guy. And yet I had to ban SP because the sheer volume coupled with the stupidity was destroying threads. Evans is like SP without the charm. A fortiori...

      And as it is, this will be perhaps only the sixth or seventh time in almost ten years that I've banned someone. I don't do it that often. Someone really has to be seriously obnoxious to get me to do that. Maybe you didn't see as much of the really nasty crap he was posting as I did.

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    3. Anonymous: But I can't help but thinking it a bit of an overreaction. Evans is no SP.

      Of course not: he's worse. SP posted endless crap because he couldn't help it; he was simply an obsessive anti-social egotistical dullard. This guy posts sociopathic hogwash on purpose — that's the whole point. He's a troll.

      Edward Feser: Seriously, what part of "Don't feed the troll" do you not understand?

      You know, I think that it's the word "troll". I increasingly get the feeling that many people think the term is merely some sort of generic Internet-insult. And I hypothesise that those folks interpret "not feeding trolls" to mean something like "not being rude yourself"; thus they try ever harder to respond seriously to the trolls... which of course just makes things worse. (Definitions are paramount, people! Learn your Aristotle!!)

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    4. Mr. Green, true. But it is also true that there was not the slightest hope of proper interaction with SP. He was simply incapable of taking on board, in a serious way, anything anyone said against his crao. When he left, the months and months of argument had made not the smallest impression on him. Evans isn't quite like that. If he chose to, he could have worthwhile discussions with us. He just chooses to troll.

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    5. Anonymous: He just chooses to troll.

      Yes, of course. I don't know if you are the Anonymous below, or merely someone else with the same name, but he isn't going to change because he doesn't want to change. Why would he, when folks here are tripping over themselves to jump when he pulls the strings?

      Don't reply. Don't respond. Don't post comments in return that are respectful or are rude, that are informative or are dismissive, that are stern or are pandering. Don't post anything. The only way to win this game is not to play. Ignore the trollery as though it weren't there ...which it won't be, once Prof. Feser deletes it (although if we all stopped acting like six-year-olds, he wouldn't have to waste so much time on janitorial chores).

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  36. Evans seems to have lost the plot, I see. It's a shame. A more measured and thoughtful approach might get a warmer reception. SP had deep psychological issues that meant he couldn't change. Can Steve?

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  37. Prof. Feser,

    Would you mind to mention your position on predestination and free will?...

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  38. Berkeley's immaterialism boils down to: matter is a phenomenon, and Kant's noumena are fictive. What's "nuts" about that?

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  39. "For though each starts from erroneous premises (in my view, anyway), each also makes the premises seem plausible, and also plausibly draws out their (often bizarre) implications." I wonder if the same could not have been said of Charles Manson, or Jim Jones, or the Unabomber, or any other sincere madman.

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    1. As Chesterton said in Orthodoxy "The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason."

      This is the thing that, perhaps erroneously, prejudices me against delving too deeply in rationalist thinkers. The emphasis on the reliability of common sense as a touchstone of any sound philosophy that you find in Aristotle and Aquinas is what attracts me to their writings.

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  40. One notable thing about the New Atheists is that while the majority of them are moral relativists, e.g Coyne and Dawkins, they hold science up as an absolute value, e.g., Coyne and Dawkins. And precisely what they value in science is the fact that it's true--faith vs. fact. But that's completely inconsistent with their professed relativism, to hold up truth as an absolute good. Obama remarked that American hicks cling to their guns and religion; well, New Atheists are the hicks of Western Civ. clinging to its founding metaphysic: omnia vincit veritas.

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    1. This seems to me to be the position of most unthinking modern people. Science - by which they mostly really mean technology - is absolute truth; morality and, indeed, all questions of value and judgement - are relative. I'm no philosopher, but someone once told me that Kant had this idea, that value is a kind of second story imposed by us on 'brute fact.' Don't know if that is a fair view of Kant or not, but it seems to me what most people (unconsciously, not worked out deliberately) to think.

      jj

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    2. Dawkins reduced science to a freaking meme. He's a skeptic.

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    3. The worst part is that they don't realise that they (at best so far as they're concerned) have to embrace a platonic view of realism in order for science to be 'true and good'. A view which is completely incompatible with their materialism.

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  41. So if Rosenberg and his book win the Pulitzers for Best Author and Best Book in the New Atheism category, who might be the nominees for the awards for *Worst* Author and Book in the New *Theism* category?

    Or, put it another way: who among the vast range of contemporary “religious” writers — in fact let’s focus on ostensibly *Christian* writers — are the ones that clear-thinking theists should most wish would just shut up and stop giving the rest of us a bad name?

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  42. I have found a series of two very good lectures on the thought of Berkeley here and here. They are given by noted Christian philosopher and teacher Arthur F. Holmes, and are really worth a listen. The second lecture is of particular interest for Holmes responds to objections, and the discussion touches on themes such as the problem from evil, the metaphysics of incarnation and of the resurrection of Christ, the problem of other minds – all from the perspective of Berkeley’s metaphysical idealism. Highly recommended.

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